“Betrayals” According to Batista

Did Batista believe he could once again be “The Man” of providence, in the absence of somewhat demagogic leaders like Chibás? (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jacobo Machover, París | 5 January 2019 — Cuba Betrayed is the English title of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar’s book, published two years ago in Mexico and titled simply Respuesta… (Response). It is the defense by the island’s one-time strongman against all the attacks against his regime and his person.

The American edition takes up again the key idea of the book: that of betrayal. But it would have been better to say “Batista betrayed” instead of Cuba. Because his defeat was, according to his point of view, much more a consequence of an interminable series of betrayals by the Americans, by the Cuban bourgeoisie (which he sometimes designates as “the economic classes” in opposition to the workers, who had remained faithful to him), and by some of his peers, the closest military figures, than by the struggle of Fidel Castro’s rebels.

This testimony contrasts, in any case, with the epic tales about the Revolution, the majority based on the stories of the guerrillas once in power, principally Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, published throughout the first years after the taking of power and reorganized in one volume in 1963, but also from the anecdotes distilled in the speeches of Fidel Castro or in the interviews granted to innumerable foreign journalists.

Other versions of the same “feats” appear in The Book of the Twelve — first published in various European countries in 1965 and then in Cuba in 1967 — by Carlos Franqui, one of the ideologues of Castroism, who left the island as a result of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. But few were those who made an effort to analyze the rotting of power from within.

This is the fundamental interest of Batista’s book, which is not simply a response to his detractors but also an attempt to justify his coup d’etat of 10 March 1952, and a detailed account of the evolution of the opponents within and outside of his own side until the final disintegration of his Army, in the last days of December 1958. And also of his abandonment by his old allies, the United States, explicitly accused of having taken the side of the rebels. From that perspective, the Cuban Revolution is of course different. It’s time to take an interest in this version, not at all heroic, but which does express the vision of the defeated, without pathos, with a certain clarity.

Fulgencio Batista, considered a “ruthless tyrant,” instigator of a “dictatorial and cruel” regime, endeavors to emphasize in his own defense that his objective was not such, in taking power by force in 1952, but rather on the contrary that he wanted to re-establish a democracy weakened by the chaos that reigned in the Republic, during the third constitutional mandate initiated in 1948 under the presidency of Carlos Prío Socarrás, consecutive to his own presidential period between 1940 and 1944 and that of Ramón Grau San Martín between 1944 and 1948.

Carlos Prío’s years in power were marked by an increase in confrontations between gangs, all of which presented themselves as revolutionary but which did no more than kill each other in order to gain positions, very well paid, in the police or administration, and to control the University Students’ Federation (FEU), bands of which Fidel Castro, personally accused of having carried out various murders, formed a part.

Cuban society was violent and profoundly corrupt, also marked by the collusion of certain political figures with various representatives of the American mafia — whose establishment in Cuba happened long before Batista’s coup — who found on the island the opportunity to continue with their businesses (hotel and casino construction, trafficking of all types), far from the severe controls of their home country’s administration.

Cuba had also been shaken by a drama that forever marked national history: the suicide, in 1951, practically live on the radio of Eduardo Chibás, the most popular of politicians, leader of the Cuban People’s Party (Ortodoxo). Chibás fired a bullet into his stomach but the radio program had been interrupted by advertising because he had by then exceeded the time that he had paid for, so the suicide was not actually carried live. He had made the fight against corruption his goal, adopting the symbol of the broom to clean the stables of the elites of the island.

When unable to offer the proof of his accusations against an acting minister, Aureliano Sánchez Arango, Chibás had preferred to end his life. His proverbial integrity and a certain degree of madness had finished him off. The Cuban people would never recover from that loss. His burial was the largest spontaneous expression of mourning by Cubans — the funerals of Fidel Castro, organized and controlled to the millimeter by his brother Raúl in 2016, cannot be considered in the same way.

Did Batista believe he could once again be “The Man” of providence, in the absence of somewhat demagogic leaders like Chibás? In any case, the motivations for his uprising are not at all clear. Indeed, he does not allude to a coup d’etat but rather to the “revolutionary regime of March 10.” Within the family, as his son Bobby explains, they referred to the “regime of March,” eliminating the description “revolutionary.”

That “revolution” was not bloody, he explained, justifying himself, just like that of the “sergeants,” which he had led in September of 1933, almost twenty years earlier, and which had put an end to the uncontrolled violence that followed the fall of the dictator Gerardo Machado. That action had made him, until his democratic election to the presidency in 1940, the true creator in the shadows of the island’s politics.

The coup d’etat of 10 March 1952, however, was not as peaceful as he claims. During the wee hours between March 9 and March 10, General Batista left his residence located to the west of Havana, the farm called Kuquine, in the company of his closest circle.

They split up in three vehicles and without firing a shot entered, at 2:43 in the morning, the military camp of Columbia, the most important in Cuba. The nocturnal coup was perfectly organized. The security barrier was raised right away to let them pass while, with the same ease, his generals were taking command of the principal military strongholds of the capital: the colonial fort of La Cabaña and the barracks of San Ambrosio.

Batista was dressed as a civilian, with a leather jacket and an open shirt. He nevertheless was hiding underneath his clothing a 38 calibre pistol, in case the action didn’t go as planned. Photos show him smiling in front of a portrait of José Martí — the “apostle” of the war of independence against Spain, killed in action in 1895 — surrounded by soldiers, received triumphantly by the troops.

This undoubtedly led him to think that the Republic was waiting for him as if he were its savior and that he would restore even the degraded democracy. At least that was what he wrote to his second wife, Martha Fernández, in the letter that he had left when he left Kuquine, his eventual testament. It was just an illusion.

Later, in the early morning, after the radio announced the revolt, president Carlo Prío, who had only a few months left in his mandate, since elections were supposed to take place on June 1, was arriving at 4:30 am at the Palace, located at that time in the heart of Havana.

In front of one of the side entrances of the building, a shootout took place between several of Batista’s men, who were in a police vehicle, and the Palace guard. Two of the assailants died in the act, as well as one of the guards, struck by the rebound of a bullet, while another was injured. It was the only effective resistance that morning.

But, quickly, some twenty students from the FEU met with Carlos Prío to demand arms. The president judged that any type of resistance was futile at that moment because the Army was in control of communications and all of the strategic points in the capital and in the whole of the country: Batista was still popular in the military institution, as in the time of the “sergeants’ revolution.”

Prío then made the decision to hide in the home of some friends located at the beach of Guanabo, to the east of Havana. Batista knew where he was. He nevertheless permitted him to take refuge in the Mexican embassy, from which he could leave on the way to exile, which he would take advantage of to later organize armed actions against him. That weakness toward his political enemies, even Fidel Castro, was later going to cause him to make bad moves, hastening his downfall.

Excerpt from the book “Betrayals,” according to Batista, published by Editorial Verbum, Madrid, 2018.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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